NRL Preview – Sharks v Panthers
A Sharks side minus Paul Gallen heads to the foot of the mountains hoping to extend a three-match winning streak this Sunday.
On a special ANZAC Round weekend, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, the game matches a Sharks team riding a wave of confidence, against a Panthers outfit battling a mounting injury toll.
However despite the fact the Sharks will go into the match as favourites, Coach Shane Flanagan is aware of the challenge the Panthers will present.
“They’re trying hard but they haven’t got the results,” Flanagan said of the Panthers recent efforts. “But you can’t take any team in this competition lightly and we definitely won’t be doing that on Sunday.”
Making life somewhat more difficult for the Sharks will be the absence of skipper Gallen, who has succumbed for the second week in a row to a troublesome hip problem.
Gallen played through pain in wins against the Roosters and Knights, before withdrawing on the eve of the match with Souths last Monday night.
Flanagan will bring Sam Tagataese into his 17-man squad but was hopeful Gallen’s stint on the sidelines wouldn’t be too long.
“For the injury not to come good is frustrating for Paul. We know what it is and our medical staff are working hard on getting it right, but it’s not an injury you would see in rugby league too often.
“He’ll work really hard on his rehab and hopefully he won’t be out for too long.”
Also unavailable for the Sharks this weekend are front row twins Andrew and David Fifita, with Andrew having one week left to serve on a lifting tackle suspension, while his brother continues his recovery from a lower leg fracture.
What the Sharks will have in their favour however is a team bristling with confidence after a slow start to the season.
Four losses in a row had the team behind the eight-ball, but the three wins that have followed, against the Roosters, Knights and Souths have the Cronulla side believing in their ability and intent on extending their winning run come Sunday.
Once again the Sharks will look for youngsters Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes to provide some attacking flair, while Ben Barba has been selected on the interchange bench for a third week.
“Benny’s role is evolving and we’ve got to do what’s best for the team as far as his role is concerned,” Flanagan added.
The match in Penrith this weekend sees the Sharks defend another three game winning run, that being for matches against the Panthers. The Sharks won both meeting with the Panthers in 2014 and also their only encounter in 2013, with the last Penrith win a 21-20 victory at Remondis Stadium in 2012.
In 84 meetings between the two clubs the Sharks hold a slight advantage with 44 wins as compared to 37 by Penrith, with three matches drawn.
At Pepper Stadium the ledger stands as 22 wins for the Panthers and 16 to the Sharks.
The match is scheduled for a 2.00pm kick off, with the NYC game to get underway at 11.45am.
The game will be telecast live on Fox Sports, with those unable to make the trip to Penrith encouraged to take in all the action Live and Loud from the Locker Room in Sharkies Leagues Club.